9.6

Gustave Wappers' painting of the Belgian Revolution, now in the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels.

Gustave Wappers’ painting of the Belgian Revolution, now in the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels.

During his exile in Britain, William the First had seen how important industrialization was for England. Now he pursued a policy of stimulation to strengthen the economy of his kingdom. The new state had enormous potential, as the industry that had already evolved in Belgium could now profit from the Dutch colonies. However, the credibility that the new kingdom had built up in the south was negated by William’s unwise behavior. When he first presented himself in Brussels as King he had had coins distributed, but he made the fatal mistake of using copper money when it was the custom to use silver. From then on, the ‘Copper King’ could do very little to win the hearts of the Belgians. By introducing press censorship, he alienated the liberals. Furthermore he insulted the Roman Catholic elite of the southern part of his kingdom when he insisted on freedom of religion. In 1830 a revolt broke out and it took another eight years before King William accepted the demise of his kingdom. During these years military expenditure was so high that cuts in the budget for education and science had to be implemented.

Because of all these problems the economic modernization of Netherland moved at a snail’s pace (especially compared to the rapid political modernization between 1780 and 1815). Only after the middle of the nineteenth century did it start to speed up. Agriculture was improved by using British techniques, trade was increased and expanded, industry developed, and colonial trade intensified. Industrialization of the Ruhr region along the Rhine in Germany made navigation on that river more important than ever, so that the harbor of Rotterdam quickly eclipsed that of Amsterdam.

When Vincent van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, he was documenting a world of poverty that was in decline.

When Vincent van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, he was documenting a world of poverty that was in decline. Note that coffee is being served.

Industrialization came late to the Netherlands, but followed a pattern that strongly resembled the progress of industrialization in Britain. In Netherland prices and wages also fell, the workers were reduced to poverty and lived in slums, tuberculosis gained ground, and the countryside became impoverished. It was a long time before the situation improved. Gradually, the towns got sewage, more schools were built, the workers became more articulate, a ban on child labor was introduced, and labor and safety laws were put in place.

Unlike England, however, none of this led to stark social differences. Take the smooth introduction of the ten-hour working day. The company that first adopted it, Stork in the small town of Hengelo, had made a good profit and the directors thought it a humane gesture to let the workers enjoy some of the fruits. To everyone’s amazement production stayed at practically the same level: the employees produced just as much in ten hours as they had in twelve. The reason for this was that they were not just better rested but also more motivated. This illustrates the harmonious relations within the consensus culture.

William I is nicknamed "the Canal King" because he greatly improved the water ways. This is the canal in Apeldoorn.

William I is nicknamed “the Canal King” because he greatly improved the water ways. This is a lock in the canal in Apeldoorn.

Another aspect of industrialization was the construction of the state machinery. All over Europe, industrialization increased prosperity – although not immediately – and governments profited by this. For the first time, a sufficient number of civil servants could be appointed to manage the affairs of state. However, in Netherland, the government machinery grew faster than elsewhere. The explanation for this can again be found in the consensus culture. The state was not seen as an enemy of the working man (as was the case in England and Prussia), nor as a brake on economic growth (as in France), but as a partner.

This manifested itself in the ‘pillarization’ of society and was a logical reaction to the enlargement of the government machinery inherent in the formation of a unified state. Many were not yet accustomed to being citizens of a single state and preferred to confer with people of the same religion and sympathies than with their new fellow countrymen. In fact, unification had been imposed on the people, and backed up in rather a forced way, with exaggerated nationalistic songs and new feast days, such as the King’s birthday.

In the nineteenth century, the Roman Catholics were allowed to build churches again. This building, in Oudenbosch, is a copy of the Basilica of St Peter in Rome, and commemorates how in 1860-1870 Dutch and Flemish soldiers served the Pope.

In the nineteenth century, the Roman Catholics were allowed to build churches again. This building, in Oudenbosch, is a copy of the Basilica of St Peter in Rome, and commemorates how in 1860-1870 Dutch and Flemish soldiers served the Pope.

Besides the Liberals, who could most easily identify with the Kingdom of Netherland (in the form it took in 1848), there were three other ‘pillars’: the Protestants, the Roman Catholics, and the Socialists. Each pillar had its own organized pressure groups, schools, sports clubs, newspaper, and political party. Broadcasting organizations and health services would follow in the twentieth century. These political parties were active in the Lower House of the Dutch parliament, making compromises and often collaborating with those they had opposed in the General Elections. (The four pillars were often recognizable by the alcohol they drank: the Liberal liked to sip a glass of wine, the orthodox Protestant drank Dutch gin, the Catholic was happy to down a beer, and the Socialist was usually a teetotaler.)

Pillarization had a significant influence on the development of the Dutch economy. The government could delegate administrative tasks to the pillar organizations by means of subsidies, and economic negotiations passed off much more harmoniously than in other countries, as they took place between like-minded people and not between enemy classes. Another consequence was that terms and conditions of work were dependent on religious denomination: the Catholic butcher was closed on the feast of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin and his Protestant counterpart closed shop on Good Friday.

It is said that in the second half of the twentieth century the pillars seemed to play a much less important role. But appearances deceive. The traditional pillars did indeed disappear, but the feminist and environmental movements replaced them, and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, these groups received subsidies and negotiated with the authorities in the same way as the former pillars. This is unique: in many countries it is most unusual for a minister to consult with self-appointed and subsidized lobby groups.

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